Despite White House national security adviser John Bolton’s protests to the contrary, President Donald Trump has given up — receiving nothing in return — the large annual springtime joint military exercises in South Korea. Such exercises have been conducted for decades, and are an important part of keeping our military forces prepared for what has become “come as you are” warfare.
Trump has bragged about the “hundreds of millions of dollars” to be saved by canceling the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, announced after his recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. I don’t buy that argument. I agree there is extra fuel and some extra maintenance involved, but we’re paying these men and women anyway. They all have to eat every day. They all have to sleep someplace. We already own the ships, aircraft, vehicles and artillery pieces involved.
Exercises pay dividends far beyond their monetary costs. I know their value firsthand: The first major exercise I participated in as a junior Navy officer was Team Spirit in South Korea in 1979.
In case you’ve never served in the military, there are several good reasons why we do them each year.
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▪ It’s vitally important that the uniformed services of our country — especially when training with the services of one or more other countries — practice the coordination required to be successful in war. Joint international exercises test every ship, every aircraft, and every land vehicle and their crews. They test the leadership and the logistical trains of both countries. They test communications across the arc of the action, especially when two or more languages are being used.
▪ Our military roster changes constantly through enlistments, re-enlistments, service extensions, discharges and retirements. While this is a complicated issue, we lose roughly 25 percent to 30 percent of our personnel each year. The service member we trained and exercised two years ago is likely a civilian now. Only about 17 percent stay until the minimum of 20 years for retirement.
▪ Despite doing similar exercises year after year, we always learn some new things worth knowing. At the conclusion of every exercise, participants clean their weapons and have an immediate “hot wash” — an after-action, free-flowing note-taking give-and-take of what went wrong, what worked well, and how we can improve for the next time.
I understand Trump has no military experience, and that most of the senior military officers who used to be on his staff have left the administration. But if he’s at least a little bit interested in getting things like this right, he should listen to his senior general officers at the Pentagon. They know what they’re talking about.
Michael L. Pandzik is the retired founding president and CEO of the National Cable Television Cooperative, and a retired captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve.